It’s always nice to see a “cute girls doing cute things” anime go the extra mile, especially when you consider how easily innocuous or pedestrian it can be. In the case of Comic Girls, a lot of the affectations that you’ve come to expect with its genre is there — moe-driven character designs, a methodical and seemingly aimless pace, and fanservice boosted by a hint of yuri. At the same time though, it pays a impressive amount of attention to its subject matter and its main protagonist.
Comic Girls begins with Kaoruko Moeta (Hikaru Akao), a teenage mangaka better known by her pseudonym, Kaos. Stuck with a severe case of anxiety and an inferiority complex, Kaos is unable to make any of her work good enough to pass the submission phase. In an effort to help inspire her and boost her confidence, Kaos’s editor sends her off to a dorm that houses other young and aspiring mangaka. From there, Comic Girls follows the daily lives of Kaos and her three friends — Koyume (Saori Oonishi), Ruki (Rie Takahashi), and Tsubasa (Rie Takahashi) — over the course of a year and in typical CGDCT fashion, a lot of hijinks ensue.
Something that quickly becomes apparent is how on point Kaos’s characterization is. Kaos prefers being with people she’s most familiar with, often freezing up in crowds of strangers. Her anxiety deeply affects her work, making her second guess its own quality and seek validation from other opinions such as her editor’s. Even her interests in anime and figurines act as a means of escapism from the almost suffocating nature of her job. Anyone who’s dealt with anxiety (myself included) may find something to relate here. And on its own merits, it’s impressive how much articulation Comic Girls puts in depicting Kaos’s anxiety beyond the usual blabbering dialogue and flustered animations that can be expected in stock shy anime girls.
Frankly, I think Comic Girls is maybe a bit too good at this. Far too often, I feel like it’s determined to make Kaos live one of the saddest fictional existences of all time. The poor girl just can’t take a break as she deals with rejection after rejection, even as her abilities as a visual storyteller improve over time. To add further insult to injury, Kaos deals with the fact that Ruki and Tsubasa are already successful mangakas. Koyume initially deals with submission hell but Comic Girls later makes the cruel move of letting her find success while leaving Kaos horribly behind. By the end of the show, it feels like there’s a lot resting on our main character’s shoulders to prove herself and I couldn’t help but wonder if the poor girl will be drained to the point of death.
As an aside, while Kaos’s character design is clearly drawn with jailbait in mind, it does reflect her worrywart personality quite well.
What saves Comic Girls from being an unintentionally depressing character study is the fact that Kaos is surrounded by her three friends who all cheer her on. Admittedly, these characters seem more stock than Kaos with Koyume acting as the bubbly one who loves sweets, Tsubasa as the cool and chuunibyou-induced tomboy, and Ruki as the mature one (though her being the ecchi artist in the group is really funny). You do, however, get to learn some interesting tidbits about each character’s personality. For example, I initially didn’t care about Ruki’s concern over her petite appearance but it did later catch my attention when she explains it’s partially out of fear that it doesn’t match the mature facade her fans imagine her to have.
There are even a few minor characters that do play an interesting part. Amisawa, Kaos’s editor, plays the difficult dichotomy between a strict judge and someone who genuinely wants her talent to succeed. Another highlight is the fifth resident at the dorm and horror savvy artist, Fuura. Most of Fuura’s scenes is a recurring joke where she tries to creep out her friends but her character is occasionally treated as someone Kaos can empathize with. In one scene, Fuura proves to be a surprisingly good mentor for Kaos, helping the latter accelerate her craft.
As a CGDCT anime, Comic Girls does possess the materials that you’ve come to expect with the genre. There are moments where the characters mug cuteness at the camera with their faces and attires. There is plenty of fanservice to go around in this anime, some of it even bordering into yuri territory. Making heavy use of such elements can make a CGDCT anime come across as shallow or pedestrian but I surprisingly didn’t get those impressions when watching Comic Girls. I didn’t mind a scene where Koyume just poses in a swimsuit since the context is that she’s helping Kaos and Ruki improve their drawing skills. I didn’t mind a yuri relationship between Koyume and Tsubasa that’ll stay in the friendship stage since there’s an interesting development where the former’s crush on the latter affects the quality of her romance manga. Obviously, these elements still aren’t for everyone but Comic Girls at least implements them so that they contribute towards characterization and not just eyecandy so it gets credit for that.
It also helps that the moe is balanced out by actual commentary on what being a mangaka is like. I’ve already mentioned the fact that the show adamantly wants Kaos to suffer through her job but the whole cast also discuss the struggles they face as mangakas who also go to high school. Their sleep cycles can get off tune, their academics can get wrecked if they’re not careful, and meeting submission deadlines is a big crunch period for everyone. At one point, they even ponder over if they want to create manga for the rest of their lives and each character actually has their own answer to the discussion.
Comic Girls does use the traditional, methodical pacing tied to CGDCT and when you’re watching the show, that can feel pretty aimless. However, getting to know the characters and their struggles in greater detail helps offset any sense that the show is wasting time. You also do get a sense that the time is passing through the story; the final two or three episodes particularly do a good job making you think there’s a clock ticking as Kaos tries to accomplish something before the year is over.
Comic Girls is a much better CGDCT anime than it ought to be. It could’ve easily just banked solely on its moe imagery yet it devotes an admirable amount of attention towards its mangaka subject and the characterization of its main protagonist. Since it does still use standard cute girls material, I would not readily recommend it to people who are generally turned off by the genre. Those who don’t mind them at all however will find plenty to enjoy with Comic Girls. Just be prepared to pray for Kaos many, many times.
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